Prothesis (linguistics)

Sound change and alternation

In linguistics, prothesis (/ˈprɒθəsɪs/; from post-classical Latin[1] based on Ancient Greek πρόθεσις próthesis 'placing before'),[2][3] or less commonly[4] prosthesis (from Ancient Greek πρόσθεσις prósthesis 'addition')[5][6] is the addition of a sound or syllable at the beginning of a word without changing the word's meaning or the rest of its structure. A vowel or consonant added by prosthesis is called prothetic or prosthetic.

Prothesis is different from the adding of a prefix, which changes the meaning of a word.

Prothesis is a metaplasm, a change in spelling or pronunciation. The opposite process, the loss of a sound from the beginning of a word, is called apheresis or aphesis.

Word formation

Prothesis may be a way of word formation during borrowing from foreign languages or during derivation from protolanguages.

Romance languages

A well-known example is that /s/ + stop clusters (known as s impurum), in Latin, gained a preceding /e/ in early Romance languages (Old Spanish, Old French).[7]

Thus, Latin status changed to Spanish estado and French état/été (in which the s was lost) "state"/"been", and Latin speciālis changed to Spanish and Old French especial (Modern French spécial, and English special).

Turkic languages

Some Turkic languages avoid certain combinations of consonants at the beginning of a word. In Turkish, for instance, Smyrna is called İzmir, and the word station, borrowed from French, becomes Turkish istasyon.

Similarly, in the Bashkir, a prosthetic vowel is added to Russian loanwords if a consonant or a consonant cluster appears at the beginning: арыш "rye" from Russian рожь "id.", өҫтәл "table" from Russian стол "id.", эскәмйә "bench" from Russian скамья "id.", etc.

More interestingly, however, Bashkir presents cases of novel prothesis in terms inherited from Common Turkic: ыласын "falcon" from Old Turkic lačïn "id.", ыcыҡ "dew" from Old Turkic čïq "id."

Samoyedic languages

In the Samoyedic languages Nenets, Enets and Nganasan, a prothesis of a velar nasal [ŋ] before vowels has occurred historically: the Nenets words /ŋuːʔ/ "road", /ŋin/ "bow" are cognate with Hungarian út, íj, of the same meaning.

In some varieties of Nenets, this rule remains productive: the initial syllable cannot start with a vowel, and vowel-initial loanwords are adapted with prothetic /ŋ/.


Hindi words from English have an initial i; sp-, sk- or sm- clusters: school → iskuul, special → ispesal.


In Persian loan words with initial sp-, st-, sk- or sm- clusters, a short vowel e is added in the beginning: spray→esprey, stadium →estadiun, Stalin → Estalin, skate→eskeyt, scan→eskan etc.

Persians learning Polish pronounce the smacznego (bon appétit) as esmacznego.

Slavic languages

During the evolution from Proto-Slavic, words in various Slavic languages gained pro(s)thetic consonants: Russian okno ("window") vs. Ukrainian vikno or Belarusian vakno.

Also, Polish wątroba ("liver"), from Proto-Slavic ǫtroba, compares with Russian utroba).[8]

Semitic Languages

Semitic languages regularly break up initial two-consonant clusters by adding a prosthetic vowel. This vowel may be preceded by the glottal stop /ʔ/ (see aleph) or (in Hebrew) /h/, which may be pronounced or simply written.[9] Because of the triconsonantal root morphology of Semitic languages, this prosthetic vowel may appear regularly when the first two consonants of the root lack an intermediate vowel, for example due to verb conjugation as in Arabic ʼaktubu (I write) from the verb kataba (root ktb).

Consonant mutation

Celtic languages

Welsh sometimes features h-prothesis and only affects vowel-initial words. H-prothesis occurs in words following the words ei (her), ein (our) and eu (their), e.g. oedran (age) ei hoedran (her age). It also occurs with ugain (twenty) following ar (on) in the traditional counting system, e.g. un ar hugain "one on twenty" (twenty-one).


Examples of a pro(s)thetic vowel performing external sandhi are known such as in Italian. Compare la scuola ("the school") vs. in iscuola ("at school"). It is, therefore, conjectured both that the origins of the Romance prothesis are phonetical, rather than grammatical, and that initially, prothesis was for breaking consonant clusters with the preceding word ending in consonant. The hypothesis is corroborated by the absence of prothesis in Romance dialects that had lost their terminal consonants.[10]

Second language

Phonetic rules of the native language may influence pronunciation of a second language, including various metaplasms. For example, prothesis is reported for Crimean Tatars speaking Russian language.[11]

James L. Barker writes:[12]"If an Arab, an East Indian, a Frenchman, Spaniard, or Italian is given the following sentence to read: I want to speak Spanish, he reads it in the following manner: I want to speak (i)/(e)Spanish. In this case there is no 'parasitic' i or e before sp of speak, but there is before sp in Spanish".

See also

Notes and references

  1. "prothesis". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. "prothesis". Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  3. πρόθεσις. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  4. Trask, Robert Lawrence. 1999. A Dictionary of Phonetics and Phonology. London: Routledge, p. 296.
  5. "prosthesis". Merriam-Webster Dictionary.,
  6. πρόσθεσις. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  7. Heinrich Lausberg, "Romanische Sprachwissenschaft" ("Romance Linguistics"), Vol. 1, Berlin, 1956, pp.64-65 (German)
  8. Paul V. Cubberley, "Russian: A Linguistic Introduction" (2002) ISBN 0521796415, p.35,
  9. Lipiński, Edward (2001). Semitic Languages: Outline of a Comparative Grammar. Peeters Publishers. p. 200.
  10. Richard D. Janda & Brian D. Joseph, "Reconsidering the Canons of Sound-Change: Towards a “Big Bang” Theory", in: "Historical Linguistics 2001. Selected Papers from the 15 International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Melbourne, 13–17 August 2001", Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co. (2003), pp. 205-219
  11. "Crimean Tatar-Russian as a Reflection of Crimean Tatar National Identity",
  12. James L. Barker, "Accessory Vowels (Voyelles prostetiques et autres)", Modern Language Notes, Vol. 40, No. 3 (March 1925), pp. 162-164; see p.162 JSTOR 2914173.

Further reading

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 12/3/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.